Thursday, January 6, 2011Posted by Melissa (Avid Reader)
by Dave Cullen
This is the way nonfiction is supposed to be written.
It doesn’t all have to be funny, ala Bill Bryson or Mary Roach, but it should be more than just an informative list of facts. I think that often, nonfiction writers’ greatest flaw is that they try to cram too much into their books. They spend years researching something and they want to squeeze in every piece of information they find, even if it hurts the book’s pacing and flow.
Columbine doesn’t fall into that trap. Ten years after the tragic school shooting in Colorado, Cullen’s book gives us the whole picture without overwhelming us. Even though I knew the outcome going into the book, it still managed to keep me enthralled throughout. The plotting, the information, the descriptions, the balanced views, it was all so well done.
Cullen was a young reporter on the scene when Eric and Dylan, two high school students, opened fire on their fellow students. The author manages to keep his personal experience and opinions out of the book entirely, which can be incredibly difficult when you devote a decade of your life to the material.
There were a few facts that really surprised me. First, Eric and Dylan (particularly Eric) had multiple reports filed with the police because of various crimes or threats they had committed. There was even a drafted warrant for Eric’s home that was never sent to a judge. If someone had looked closer at his life or listened to a particular family that he had been threatening, who knows what might have been prevented.
Second, the “She Said Yes” girl who was killed in the library… didn’t say yes. Cassie’s martyrdom was one of the most enduring elements of Columbine and it turns out that’s not what happened at all. Another girl was asked if she believed in God, she said no, then yes, but she wasn’t killed because something else distracted Eric. Cassie was shot and killed, but no one asked her a question first. It may seem unimportant, but because of this confusion, people thought the girl who was actually asked that question was just copying Cassie’s story and many people didn’t believe her. How awful would that have been?
I was a high school student when the shootings happened and I remember them so well. When I started the book I was dreading it. I’m not a news hound and I didn’t want to rehash the tragedy, but the book doesn’t do that. Instead it clarifies the confusions and explains what happened, both from the killers’ perspective and the community’s. Whether you consider yourself a nonfiction reader or not, Columbine is a powerful book.